Reshaping the Solar Spectrum to Turn Light to Electricity

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense. The solar cells – made often of silicon or cadmium telluride – rarely cost more than 20 percent of the total cost. Solar energy could be made cheaper if less land had to be purchased to accommodate solar panels, best achieved if each solar cell could be coaxed to generate more power.

A huge gain in this direction has now been made by a team of chemists at UCR that has found an ingenious way to use the infrared region of the sun’s spectrum to make solar cells more efficient. The researchers, including Christopher Bardeen, professor of chemistry, and Ming Lee Tang, assistant professor of chemistry, report in Nano Letters that by combining inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals with organic molecules, they have succeeded in “upconverting” photons in the visible and near-infrared regions of the solar spectrum.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army.

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Flowers Can Endanger Bees

Despite their beauty, flowers can pose a grave danger to bees by providing a platform of parasites to visiting bees, a team of researchers has determined.

The study, published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to show that not only can bees disperse parasites around the environment but also that flowers are platforms for a host of pollinator parasites subsequently dispersed onto visiting bees.

“By showing that visits from parasite-carrying bees can turn flowers into parasite platforms, we can say that it is likely that heavily visited flowers may become more ‘dirty’ with bee parasites,” said Peter Graystock, a postdoctoral researcher in the UCR Department of Entomology and the research paper’s first author. “Planting more flowers would provide bees with more options, and parasite spread may thus be reduced.”

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Soybean Oil Causes More Obesity Than Coconut Oil and Fructose

A diet high in soybean oil causes more obesity and diabetes than a diet high in fructose, a sugar commonly found in soda and processed foods, according to scientists at UCR.

The scientists fed male mice a series of four diets that contained 40 percent fat, similar to what Americans currently consume. In one diet, the researchers used coconut oil, which consists primarily of saturated fat. In the second diet, about half of the coconut oil was replaced with soybean oil, which contains primarily polyunsaturated fats and is a main ingredient in vegetable oil. The other two diets had added fructose.

Compared to mice on the high coconut oil diet, mice on the high soybean oil diet showed increased weight gain, larger fat deposits, a fatty liver with signs of injury, diabetes and insulin resistance, all of which are part of the Metabolic Syndrome. Fructose in the diet had less severe metabolic effects than soybean oil although it did cause more negative effects in the kidney and a marked increase in prolapsed rectums, a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which like obesity is on the rise.

“This was a major surprise for us — that soybean oil is causing more obesity and diabetes than fructose — especially when you see headlines everyday about the potential role of sugar consumption in the current obesity epidemic,” said Poonamjot Deol, the assistant project scientist who directed the project in the lab of Frances M. Sladek, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience.

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